Book One: Chapter One

The Final Chapters


Book One: Chapter One


Mary was tired. She wanted to be flying back home. She wanted to be glued into a movie. And most of all, she wanted out of the heat.

The driver was giving her some respite from the afternoon furnace with his aircon, on full blast. An icy-dry wind that would only make the outside's heat more of an ordeal.

She had been in Sri Lanka and Tamil Elan for a week. It had been fun, quiet, interesting.... memorable moments and stretched expanses of hotel room boredom, all paid for by the BBC. The peace that had settled after the secession still had its hidden pockets of strife and conflict. It was these skirmishes and explosions of tension that Mary was reporting on.

On her right the Indian Ocean lapped away at modern bungalows and rickety shacks from an age no visitor could guess. Months or Decades. Aeons. She liked the fact that every kilometre she went was taking her more south than she had ever been in her life.

A message came in confirming her flight change. She knew there would not have been an issue but a confirmation was always... reassuring. More so out here in the tropics with its pumping sun and inherent unreliability. She texted a message to her husband.

Two hours south of Colombo the driver, with an accent more English then Churchill, told her the next town was Hikkaduwa. Traffic amassed, filthy spurting petrol cars and vans. Mary found herself wincing just looking at the smoke. A couple on a bike overtook, the woman hardly holding on at all as they dipped into the gaps. No helmets and no filters from the choke.

Hikkaduwa was an old tourist town that had sprawled inland and along the coast. Every space selling suits or clothes or carved elephants. Restaurants and hotels and guest houses with names like “Happy Suns” and “Waverider Lodge”. Mary had no intention of staying here but, looking at the time, it was getting less likely she would be back in the capitol, its good food and its luxury hotel.

Slower than walking pace. A constant crawling throng of people and cars and three wheelers and bikes all trying to get into the town that was building up around them.

{revise two lines above – rather confusing!}

She still had her info message pops on from her time in the north and one popped in: "During the 2004 Tsunami a Train carrying.....". She looked around but could only see trees and buildings. Mary turned her pops off, too tired to really care.

“Here miss?” Said her driver, pointing at an enclosed hotel called “Coral reef.”

“No No. The monastery please. The Temple.” She said.

“Ahhh. Temple. Buddha Temple or Hindu?” Mary confirmed she wanted to go to the Buddhist temple, smiling a fake smile. She wasn't prone to feigning smiles but sometimes, when you are tired or sad, it's the done thing.

The driver obviously had no clue where it was and stopped the car (which wasn't moving much anyways) in the middle of the street. He wound down the window. A blast of molten air rushed in and the driver shouted to a passer by on the other side of the street.

They spoke in the incomprehensible Singhalese. Mary had given up trying to use her state of the art translator on her first day in the country. She waited until the driver turned, “There are two temples, which one do you need Miss?”

“Uhhhh.” She expelled. “Hold on please.” Mary spoke into her phone and read the screen, knowing that she had the message sent to her by Sumith, the guide who had taken her into Tamil Elan. It was he who had told her that she should come and check out the boy. She read Sumith's words off the phone's screen, “Hikkaduwa Temple. It's the smaller one. NOT Udugama Temple.” The driver translated and the local pointed directions that seemed to suggest they would need to go via a route that was geometrically impossible. His arm snaking in the air like a drunken cobra.

The Sri Lankans gave each other genuine nods of farewell and off they drove. Mary, desperate for the window to be closed, lurched forward and pointed at it. The driver smiled and pressed the button. Down a side street they went, and across a railway track, and through some alley-ways that made them bump and jolt until, a couple of minutes after getting directions, they stopped.

Mary looked around and saw wide steps leading up to a walled enclosure that she knew held the temple, though she could not make out what it held.

“I will wait here for you Miss?” Asked the driver. Mary had no idea how long she would be, she didn't care about the cost of the car and so, without thinking, said “Yes, please.”

Ohhh…. the heat was hot even though the sun was drowsy! She felt her sweat glands seem to spring into action before she had even started up the steps. It was maybe thirty steps but to anyone who saw her ascend, dripping like a rag, they might have though she had scaled Adam's Peak. A monk, robed in pristine orange, was sweeping around the huge Bhodi Tree, he turned and paused, smiled, and fanned his face to acknowledge the heat.

Mary walked up to him and gave a small bow with her head, as she had been shown by her guide last week. He made the smallest of smiles and turned to sweeping the dusty sand smooth. She walked around to the shade of the tree and flipped down her phone, the message from Sumith was still there, as were the autolinks to the wikis and sites. Mary got the sweeping monks attention.

“Yes, can you help me, I need want to see the boy. Hoddi.” It was clear that he spoke not a word of English. It was also clear her pronunciation of the boy's name didn't help matters at all. But the monk knew what to do, and pointed to a building, on two levels, that occupied the corner of the temple enclosure.

She looked back at him.

“Yanna yanna,” he said, motioning with his fingers that she should go.

Mary thanked him again, a tad over-the-top in her enthusiasm, and walked towards the building.

There were some Monks sitting in the entrance hall who looked at her as she approached. They seemed embarrassed and continued whatever it was they were doing or .... not doing. Either way, the monks seemed to be doing something that involved doing not much at all, save reading or staring into space.

She slowed her pace and stepped closer… the entrance room becoming more visible. Its back wall stacked high with a wide menagerie of objects and artefacts. Broken plastic dolls, books and big old computers.

Printed portraits of monks, smiling serenely. Black and white or faded colour. As if expecting her, a monk walked from an adjoining room, stopped in the middle of the hallway paused for a tiny moment when he saw Mary. He then walked out into the sun to greet her.

He was strikingly beautiful. Maybe forty but maybe older. Perhaps younger.

“Hello.” He said, tilting his head ever so slightly. Mary bowed again, this time clasping her hands as if in prayer.

“My name is Mary Potter, I work for the BBC. I am a journalist.”

“Ahhhhh…. British Broadcasting Company. Very good...very good.” Mary felt no need to correct him. “Welcome to Sri Lanka!”

“Thanks you. You have a lovely country,” He didn't look so sure. Mary found it hard to apprehend how arrestingly gorgeous he was. She felt guilt for the way her heart fluttered over a man of such a cloth.

“Please please come in. You look hot.” He turned to a young monk and said something in Singhalese. The monk scurried off. “Have a seat.”

Mary sat in the old wicker chair and the monk, who Mary later found out was Amila, the “abbot”, sat besides her. She cut straight to the chase, “I was told that you have a young monk here who… is special.”

Amila smiled but said nothing for some time. The monk who had been sent on an errand returned with a stainless steel tray that had a plastic jug of water on it and a glass, scratched opaque by years of dusty hands holding it. Mary hadn't drunk the water here for a week but felt there was no option but to drink this. She was parched and felt the need to be ultimately polite.

The water tasted warm. Irony. It quenched her with a slight bitterness. Mary didn't think about pre-emptive antibiotics. She had no concern about spending the next week in bed in an amoebic sweat. She didn't feel like worrying. It might have been tiredness or the quiet. it might have been the monk or the monks. Whatever it was, Mary was conscious of being unusually relaxed. Aware of the moment as she sipped warm water.

After a passage of time in which nothing was said Amila sent the water monk off on another errand. His voice and manner wasn't commanding. It had an authority but not devoid of dominance. Something to a western mind was seldom scene. {Did you meen seen or serene?}

The water monk returned. A young boy following, robes flapping with each stride. Short cropped hair as black as coal. A face that seemed to have been frozen and melted myriad times, but now was made anew.

"This is the song boy."


(c) 2006 LJT, All rights reserved